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Second Sunday of Easter (B)

Acts 4:32-35; 1 Jn 5:1-6; Jn 20:19-31

April 15, 2012


If there is a danger of anti-climax after the high drama of the Triduum and the sheer relief of the feast of the Resurrection, today's readings should help keep us alert and focused on a critical question: after all is said and done, is our faith in the Risen One now really restored and deepened? We might imagine that the Eleven were so overjoyed at seeing Jesus alive that their faltering faith was now and forever permanently fortified; now they really knew who Jesus was; they knew what following him entailed; and they knew what a difference even they could make if they continued his mission and his memory.

But two thousand years on, how is the mission of Jesus being sustained and extended? There is an urgent need for each of us to reflect and respond. The Collect should give us pause, and the Gospel reading offers us a poignant challenge to rethink our own call and co-mission. The Collect speaks of God "who kindle(s) the faith of the people", and of our own need "to grasp and rightly understand ... in whose Spirit (we) have been reborn." It offers a necessary reminder that we still have a long way to go. Let's look again at the Gospel story.

On the day of the Resurrection, Jesus had brought to the fearful disciples the gifts of his peace and the Holy Spirit. But Thomas, unaccountably, had been absent and was now jealous and angry. After a further week, Jesus again appeared, turning immediately to Thomas who can hardly believe his eyes because they contradict what he knows about impenetrable closed doors and undoubtedly dead bodies. But he knows that this is Jesus, and he remembers only too acutely his truculent and disrespectful challenge. Thomas must now be quite ashamed and deeply humiliated, caught as he is between the witnesses to his ultimatum and the very person to whom it had been directed. But Jesus has just said "Peace!" and Thomas can feel the peace in that room, where all was suddenly still and every eye was fixed on him.

This is the gentle Jesus, meek and mild, always ready to forgive and to embrace. But this is no simpering, spineless Jesus: he will gently yet firmly lead Thomas, making him do exactly what he had insisted that he be permitted to do. This is the longest moment in Thomas' life - an awesome, shocking heart-stopping moment. And it brings him, almost literally, to his knees. Thomas had demanded to be allowed to put his finger in the nail mark and his hand into the open wound in Jesus' side. Deliberately now, with eyes locked on Thomas, Jesus invites him to do exactly that. And as he does so, Jesus gently calls him to doubt no longer but to believe.

There is no indication that Thomas even raises his hand, and every indication that he does not raise his voice. In a whisper, full of both shame and faith, Thomas hears the words tumbling from his own lips: "My Lord and my God." It may be the most succinct, the most complete, the most moving and the most faith-filled statement in the whole New Testament. There is no air left in Thomas' lungs, and no movement in that room.

And Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me?" Yes indeed, Thomas now believes because he has seen with his own eyes what his mind could not possibly have allowed him to see. Yes, he has come to faith the long way round, by the slow road. Yes, he has finally come to faith, but by degrees - not like the woman with the hemorrhage (Mk 5) or the man possessed (Mk 5), not like the bent-over woman (Lk 13) or the well-woman (Jn 4). But, like them all now, Thomas was there: fully alert, totally present.

In that timeless moment, he must have finally understood what it all meant. In that lung-bursting instant, he must have remembered, and received the enlightenment of grace and the grace of enlightenment. Perhaps this is why Thomas is such a favorite with so many down the years: we are just like him; we come to faith by the long, slow route. But by the grace of God we do come, in the end.

By Anthony J. Gittins, C.S.Sp., Professor of Mission and Culture 

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